The Post-Carbon Institute has been raising awareness of energy-related policy issues since 2003. This is a critical task: our current way of life, which is based on cheap and abundant energy, is inevitably going to have to change, and change soon – because energy supplies are becoming scarcer, and ever more expensive (PDF). This isn’t because we’re running out of oil: it’s because discovering and extracting oil is becoming so expensive that a price high enough to keep oil companies in business is a price that’s too high for consumers to afford. If the price goes down, the producers go bust; if the price goes up, the consumers go bust. That’s where we are now, and for evermore, because there are no new sources of cheap oil.
There’s no way around this: one of the key takeaways of Michael Moore’s recent documentary, Planet of Humans, is that renewable energy cannot possibly maintain the way of life that we in developed countries currently have. It just cannot generate reliable energy in sufficient amounts, and it is itself dependent on fossil fuel inputs to build, install, and operate the renewables.
The increasing cost of energy, and increasing unreliability in its supply, will force us to change to a much simpler, more resilient, less consumption-based, way of life. Much of the Institute’s work is a) to show us that this cannot be avoided, b) to show us how this can be achieved as painlessly as possible, and c) to demonstrate that for most of us it will likely be a change for the better.
One of the resources the Institute has prepared is an online course, Think Resilient (PDF of course overview), which takes participants through the key issues and ways to respond to the situation by developing the resilience of the communities in which we live. ‘Resilience’ here is defined as the ability of a system (be that an ecosystem, a business, a culture, or a community) ‘to absorb disruption and still retain its basic structure and function, or identity’.
The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic which is currently raging around the globe is giving us a foretaste of what this future world will look like: a world with little air-travel, and reduced international shipping; a world in which the globalized economy that has built up over the last 50 years is collapsing, and international just-in-time supply chains are no longer feasible. In response to the pandemic, the Institute has, for now, made this course available for free. I’ve just completed it, and I highly recommend it to everyone – and to Druids in particular.
The course is made up of 22 short video lectures presented by the Institute’s Senior Fellow, Richard Heinberg. The lectures are grouped in six thematic sections, and add up to about four hours’ worth of viewing. Each lecture is accompanied by a transcript downloadable in PDF format, as well as suggestions for further reading. There is a short quiz at the end of each group.
The course structure is as follows:
Our converging crises
- Population and consumption
The roots and results of our crises
- Political and economic management
- Belief systems
- Thinking in systems
- Shifting cultural stories
- Culture change and neuroscience
- What is resilience?
- Community resilience in the 21st century
- Six foundations for building community resilience
Economy and society
- How globalization undermines resilience
- Economic relocalisation
- Social justice
Basic needs and functions
- Meeting essential community needs
- Resilience in major sectors
- Review, assessment, & action
Between them, the lessons cover a huge range of topics, and will provide a great deal of insight into how our contemporary world works. It goes into the sources of inequality, insecurity, pollution, and, really, why so many of us find the way we live to be unsatisfying and unfulfilling.
It also addresses why so many of us have felt that there’s no way we can can change it. The pandemic has done us a favour in a way: it has changed the narrative, and forced us to realise that the machine can stop… and many of us are finding that we like it! (Apparently, only 9% of people in the UK want to go back to their pre-pandemic way of life). People value their new free time; the slower pace of life; cooking for themselves using natural ingredients; being able to hear birdsong; being part of a community where neighbours look out for each other; the new appreciation for ordinary working people… A world that is not driving people to death from despair…
The economic shutdown imposed by the pandemic is a foretaste of what is, with 100% certainty, going to be our new normal when cheap and abundant energy goes away: and it will go away, forever, and probably within the next couple of decades.
If we are not prepared, the fallout of its collapse will destroy many lives, as we are seeing with many people even now – but, in the future, it is unlikely that there will be the government support for workers that is protecting many jobs and incomes during the pandemic.
If we are prepared, though, communities will be insulated from the worst effects: they will be producing most of what they need for themselves, and providing healthier and more meaningful lifestyles in the process.
Each community is different, of course, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The Think Resilience course provides participants with the basic toolkit to analyse their own community and their own way of life, so that they can contribute to building an appropriate, resilient future. I highly recommend it.
I mentioned that I particularly recommend it to Druids. That’s because transitioning to a way of life that is both resilient and sustainable isn’t just a matter of technology: it’s a matter of changing the stories that we, as a society, tell ourselves about who we are… and stories are something Druids are meant to be good at. Not to mention that as Druids we revere nature: helping society change its ways, to help people live more easily, less destructively, with nature, is kind of our mission statement.
I’ll expand on that in my next post.